Sunday, April 9, 2017

'Sapphire rush' threatens rainforests of Madagascar

More high-quality sapphires have been found in the biodiverse area known as the Ankeniheny-Zahamena Corridor in eastern Madagascar in the past six months than were found in the entire country over the past 20 years.
Tens of thousands of miners and gem traders have poured into the rainforests around the village of Bemainty. They have cut down thousands of acres of forest in the protected area.
The corridor is home to more than 2,000 plant species found nowhere else on earth, and 14 endangered species of lemur. Local officials are unable to control the situation. Armed gangs are the rule of law.

Madagascar produces about half of the world’s high-end sapphires with about 70% of its sapphire market controlled by Sri Lankans, who smuggle the gems back to their country to be cut and exported. By October, the population at the main mining site was growing by about 1,500 to 2,000 people a day. Locals in the area see few benefits as the prices of staples such as rice have risen by 50% or more.
Despite serious security issues miners keep coming. Two years of drought in many parts of Madagascar have led farmers to seek out alternative sources of income for survival. Officials believe the number of miners in the Bemainty area may be as high as 200,000. In November, a group of about 500 miners went deeper into the protected area to search of gemstones.